“Have you heard of Bigfoot Wallace?”
So begins Howard’s rip snorting bio of William Alexander Anderson Wallace, aka “Bigfoot” Wallace, legendary Texas Ranger. Wallace and Jack Hays (discussed in The Texian #12) are probably the two most famous rangers of the pre-Civil War days. Arriving here a year after San Jacinto and finding the war over, they figured out another way to get their blood up – fightin’ the brutal Comanche raiders that swept through Texas stealing horses, killing settlers and stealing children. Both Wallace and Hays would end up fighting the Mexicans anyway during the Invasion of Texas in 1842 and the Mexican American War. “Devil Jack” would eventually ride on to California and settle the town of Oakland, staying there the rest of his days. Bigfoot would stay in Texas. After a few early stabs at courtship, Wallace just gave up more or less on the ladies and became a solitary soul – and the wide wild open spaces of Texas spoke to that need of solitude. He spent his life protecting the frontier as a ranger: scouting, tracking and driving the mail coach between San Antonio and El Paso, a long and very dangerous stretch of country beset by hordes of raiding Comanches and Apache. Yet he managed to survive it all and lived to a ripe old age. He’s buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
He was indeed a big man, standing at 6’ 2” in an age when most men were 5’ 6” – 5’ 8” and weighing in at a svelte 240 lbs in his prime. Big men make for big stories and legends stuck to him like white on rice. He loved to sit back and “stretch the blanket” with his many visitors over the years and thus helped create his own myth through the tall tales he’d weave. About 1870 a fellow ranger friend of his, John C. Duval, published the classic “Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace” which Howard read and seemed to have really enjoyed as it appears to be his only source for Bigfoot’s life. In his mini-bio that he whips up for HPL, Howard mentions several adventures that are only to be found in Duval’s book and are not found in any other biography available at the time. It is a very enjoyable book with a great voice. It really sounds like Bigfoot is sitting right next to you in his old worn out chair, spinning an epic yarn for your fireside entertainment. It reminds me a great deal of the Breckenridge Elkins stories. I think it’s likely that this bio inspired something of Elkins’ character, with Wallace’s size and some of his more hilarious adventures amidst polite society being an inspiration for Elkin’s misadventures through the Southwest. If you can find a copy of it, I highly recommend it.
All that being said - it’s not incredibly accurate. Duval really dialed the adventures up to 11 in order to ensure high sales. But after Duval died, Wallace told friends that he wasn’t overly happy with the book as it wasn’t particularly factual. So A. J. Sowell, another ex-ranger, sat down and helped Wallace write a new biography. This one - “The Life of Bigfoot Wallace”- is still a great read but far less colorful than Duval’s earlier book. It reads like a streamlined journalistic account with few frills. As a result, it’s far more trustworthy as a historical document. I don’t know how readily available it was in Howard’s day. Both are easily available now, so I highly encourage you to read them both if you love old Texas Ranger adventures straight from the horse’s mouth.
In his own Wallace bio, Howard’s muse takes the reigns (as She always did) and soon he is painting quite the epic, action packed picture of the famed fight between Wallace and a giant Indian who also bore the nickname of “Bigfoot”. I thought it would be interesting to compare Howard’s version to the version he was drawing on as a source. I certainly think Howard’s version is better yet Duval’s version ain’t nothing to sneeze at either. But as you will see, the true story of how Chief Bigfoot died is up for debate. Duval’s version is the most popular, with Wallace as the mythological giant killer but Sowell’s version is likely more accurate. In his version, Wallace has almost nothing to do with the death Chief Bigfoot. Another ranger brought him down! There’s not even an epic battle to death. You’ll see how it happens, as I’ve included that version too, and while interesting, it’s nowhere near the colorful battle to death that Howard and Duval have us believe it was. And then, as so often happens with history, even that second tale must be questioned because Chief Bigfoot could have actually been killed by yet another completely different ranger, Shapley Ross, around 1842. Turns out, that though there was a very real Chief Bigfoot, he eventually morphed into a frontier bogeyman of sorts. Every large footprint belonged to him and many a theft was blamed on this elusive phantom raider. But newspaper accounts from 1842 are the first to chronicle his supposed death at the hands of Ranger Ross, so that’s the best historical evidence we have about his actual death. I have included this tale as well, as told in the pages of Frontier Times Magazine – a magazine Howard enjoyed reading.
Hope you enjoy these four deaths of Chief Bigfoot.
Letter from REH to HPL, mid-October 1931:
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Robert E. Howard on the Llano Estacado and the Collection at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library by Rob King
|Texas Tech University's Southwest|
Collections/Special Collections Library
No Howard scholar need be lectured on the wealth of Texan perspective found in the letters of Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft as collected in A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. One could hardly thumb through thirty pages without landing on a reference. Widely exaggerated and held in a reverence all his own, Howard’s history of Texas requires each reader to approach it with a zeal and skepticism alike. If there is a goal to this brief article, it is to begin to focus on a portion however brief—a portion of his letters and a portion of Texas. The author of this article is a librarian at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library who has attended three of Cross Plains’ Robert E. Howard Days over the past four years and was responsible for digitalization and metadata for the majority of the Cross Plains Review. It is with that background that interest in Howard’s letter from October 1930 began. The letter runs fifteen pages long, barring reference notes. In that packed page count, the topics vary from appreciation of publications to genealogy to the Llano Estacado, etcetera. In the letter, Howard claims to have “but recently returned” from the Llano Estacado landscape. For the purposes of this study, the focus will be on the month of October of 1930 to give context to Howard’s communicated experiences traveling on the Llano Estacado and then look at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections as uniquely positioned to study the author and his assertions.
At the time of this letter’s composition, one immediately learns that H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “The Whisper in the Darkness” has just been accepted for publication. For comparison, it is noted by letter’s end that Howard has also just sold Weird Tales his short story “The Children of the Night,” wherein he has firmly embraced his Bran-cult along with all of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and Necronomicon. The attention needed here, though, looks to the last paragraph appearing on page ninety of A Means to Freedom. It allows for examination of Howard’s statements on Texas as he states “And it must indeed be said, that though most native Texans are of Southern blood, there is a great difference between them and natives of the Old South. I notice it every time I go to Lousiana [sic] or Arkansaw. [sic] We think of ourselves, and really are, not Southerners nor Westerners, but Southwesterners. Our accent is more like the South than the North or the Middle West, but it differs greatly from the true Southern accent.” This is largely true and speaks somewhat to the idea of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library’s scope and purpose. As Howard speaks to this distinction, the question almost always becomes “where does West Texas begin?” Many would say it begins west of I-20, near Fort Worth—this is Howard’s position—while those born further into the region might claim it begins west of Abilene up into the Panhandle. For context against this particular letter, I’ll look at digitized newspapers for Lubbock and Slaton to get a clearer picture of the environment Howard would have been referencing for Lovecraft in the following passages.
I have but recently returned from a trip to the great northwest plain which, beginning about the 33rd parallel run on up into Oklahoma and Kansas. Texas is really, especially in the western part, a series of plateaus, like a flight of steps, sloping from 4000 feet in the Panhandle to sea-level. You travel for a hundred or so miles across level plains, then come to a very broken belt of hills and canyons, then passing through them you come on to another wide strip of level country at a lower or higher elevation according to the direction in which you are travelling-and so on, clear to the Gulf. I was on the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, so called from the fact that Spanish priests, crossing the plains long ago, marked the way with buffalo skulls stuck on stakes. Twenty years ago most of that country was cattle-range; now the great majority is in cultivation. The Llano Estacado is the last stand for the big-scale Texas farmer. Farms of a thousands [sic] acres, every inch under cultivation are not uncommon. A farm of that size requires a tractor and a veritable herd of work horses to cultivate it properly. During busy seasons the work goes on day and night; they work by shifts and labor from sunrise to sunrise. The average elevation is better than 3000 feet and the country is perfectly flat. You can see for miles in every direction; there are no trees except such as have been planted. Its a great, raw, open new country with mighty possibilities,
but I'd go dippy living there. I was born and mainly raised in the Central Texas hill country and I have to have hills and trees!
The Llano Estacado is largely in the hands of native Texans of old American stock. You see, its really a pioneer country. The European scum sticks to the lowlands and the Gulf coast, waiting for the Old Americans to open the country up and get it going-and paying. THEN they'll swarm in and take it over.